Why we need to “Play at Work” and “Work at Play”

Games are sneaking into every part of our lives – at home, school, and work. Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and even the Army depend on games and pretty soon, you’ll be a part of one.
We guarantee  it.

According to Richard van Eck, games embody well-established principles and models of learning. Some of the most successful commercial game franchises such as Civilization, SimCity and Railroad  Tycoon—have demonstrated how games can model very complex social, scientific, and economic processes.

If business leaders can successfully utilize tools such as gamification and game-based learning, this may increase their returns on talent development investments. It may also enable business leaders to leave a lasting legacy by sculpting new generations of leaders that are ready and able to face the future.

Why leadership development trainers are exploring gamification for solutions

Leadership has often been touted as an almost mystical holy grail in modern business. Leadership development has therefore been often identified as a critical pivot for business success, but the academic understanding of the process of Leadership Development is still in its infancy.

Given the increasing ubiquity of advanced computing abilities and technology within the knowledge economy, development of leadership competencies is essential to organisational survival and success.

Within a Post-Post Modernist epoch the utilisation of ICT supported leadership development technology need to take into account the changing in the nature of learning itself, as well as the expectations of learners.

Some distinctive features of multi-player, on-line games such as team collaboration, problem solving, and group decision-making have caused a lot of interest from practitioners in business, government and the military. The engaging and fun nature of games can also have piqued the interests of academics and practitioners alike.

One of the primary workplace benefits of gaming is that it can teach players effectively about complex systems through cause-and-effect realizations. The workplace can potentially benefit from the application of two game-based techniques, namely “gamification” and “serious games”.

Brian Burke, an analyst at Gartner defines gamification as follows:

Gamification describes the broad trend of employing game mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change.

Immersive Learning Simulations are the future of learning and development

Serious games” such as simulations, also have a long track record within business applications. Immersive Learning Simulations can be defined as a system that combines simulation, pedagogy, and “hard fun” to create a truly engaging and behavior-changing form of learning.

Kriz and Nöbauer stressed that learners should be stimulated to take on joint responsibility and to be proactive in shaping their own learning processes:

The approach of problem-oriented learning requires the following:

  • complex and authentic contexts, encouragement toward experience-oriented learning;
  • multiple contexts, variety of perspectives and methods;
  • social contexts, team learning, and teamwork; and
  • instructional contexts, appropriate support from the teacher or trainer via debriefing by paying attention to experiences such as problem-solving strategies, cooperation, conflict, resolution, and so on.

Because gaming simulation propels these principles into action, it is an extremely useful learning methodology. Gaming simulation is an interactive-learning environment that makes it possible to cope with authentic situations that closely mimic reality.”

Talented game designer Eric Zimmerman at MIT even argues that there is an emergent need for gaming literacy to be recognized as a new form of literacy:

Literacy and even media literacy are necessary but not sufficient for one to be fully literate in our world today. There are emerging needs for new kinds of literacy that are simply not being addressed, needs that arise in part from a growing use of computer and communication networks (more about that below). Gaming literacy is one approach to addressing these new sorts of literacies that will become increasingly crucial for work, play, education, and citizenship in the coming century.

Csikszentmihalyi, in his seminal 1990 work Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, discusses Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, the influential phenomenological sociologists. They have stated that our sense of the universe in which we live is held together by conversation. The ability of serious gaming to present an engaging two-way conversation between participant and learning content is a powerful learning mechanism.

One of the most important benefits of games, and especially simulation games, is the manner in which productive failure and creative adaptability is encouraged. Fear of punishment, either formally or socially, is typically low in social games, encouraging experimentation and creative workarounds to reach mutual goals.

Game designer, Jane McGonical refers to this prosocial emotion being encouraged and experienced by gamers as “happy embarrassment.”.

The information economy requires leaders with more and more advanced levels of information management skills and knowledge, as well as appropriate attitudes towards technology and the optimal usage thereof. Experiential learning is a potentially effective tool to develop the competencies required within the knowledge economy.

In contrast with the almost bleak picture that executives are often presented with regarding the unruly and “disobedient” nature of Generation X and Y, Jane McGonical argues very passionately that gaming has created in this generation a group of “Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals.”

The application of Digital Games within leadership development by now means new. Various gaming projects that attempt to enhance and transfer leadership competencies by means of immersive online simulation gaming exist.

Online Social Gaming as a learning design and learning technology can prove particularly valuable as leadership and skills development tool within the Digimodern world. The utilisation of simulation, and specifically Social Online Simulation Games as a tool within the leadership development field would probably increase in future.

The challenge

It is relatively easy to formulate business strategy that aims to exploit the opportunities potentially offered by information technology. In this same vain, it is also easy to spend money on perceived information technology opportunities. It is however, in between these two factors that the real challenge lay. Ensuring that information technology adds value though in terms of strategy realisation implies a myriad of challenges:

The problem lies in the space between these two, in the uncertain world of project management, systems implementation, business change management, benefits delivery, and performance management.

It is therefore clear that successful utilization of gaming in talent development programs may be more than just a game. It requires circumspection, analysis of leverage points and inclusive project implementation strategies.

Wouter Grove will be speaking at the Chief Learning and Development Officers Conference on the 9-11 October 2013 at t The Fairway Hotel and Golf Resort, Johannesburg. To learn more about this conference and how gamification will affect the future of learning and development in business – click here now.

Wouter Grove is the CEO of Gamechangers Pty Ltd, a serious gaming and gamification consultancy based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently finalising his Master’s thesis on the topic of Serious Gaming at the University of the Western Cape and is especially interested in the intersection of the trends of ubiquitous gaming, ubiquitous computing and social networks. He is a member of the Serious Games Association and has previously worked in various roles within the management consulting, risk management, information technology and operations management fields.


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